Written By Amber Lawton
In the middle of an extremely cramped space I stood waiting. Waiting for what would be that day’s purge. My living conditions had become unbearable, as there were but a few empty spaces I could actually step foot. Clean clothes, dirty clothes, trash, and keepsakes sat in piles surrounding me. Embarrassed, with chaos hidden behind a locked door, I kept my secret as long as I could, unable to ask for help. I wanted so badly to tell my roommates how lost I felt. I wanted to be able to open my mouth and say the words. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t ask for help, because if I did I would have to admit I was not the super woman I was trying to be. I would have to admit that my mistakes and failures were weighing on me to the point I didn’t have the sufficient energy to pick up a broom. No one wants to be the messy girl in a house full of productive, up and coming career women.
There I stood with plans of what to get rid of, what to keep, and where to clean. The plan was quite simple, but the execution was non-existent. Being an over-achieving organized person has its faults. If you’re like me you will find that we can be great at fixing and strategizing for others. We even learn how to compartmentalize categories for ourselves. Yet, there is always that one area where disorder will show up. In my case it was my living space.
Every day I stood waiting, asking myself if today would be the day that the cleaning process would begin. Every day the answer was no.
“You don’t have time. You’re too tired from the day that still seems to be going.” I thought. My mind would tell my body on a consistent basis not today, and I agreed. I was tired. I was burned out.
Still I stood waiting for the purge to happen; the one that would bring me an emptiness I could feel. In the middle of that room surrounded by piles of belongings I was standing on a scale. Having taken pills to counteract the food I had just eaten I stared at the number on the scale. I followed a pretty strict diet most days, and over exercised on the days I didn’t. To top it all off I was on an unending cycle between detox and diet with very brief periods in between where I would give my body a break. Diet pills, diuretics, fiber, and even epsom salt were on the list of consumables that I would take to get to that comfortable empty. I didn’t want to categorize myself as bulimic since I wasn’t model thin. But I realize now that is exactly what I was.
During adolescence I began binge eating as a way of comfort. Filled with anxiety, and emotion I would stuff myself until I could almost vomit. I say almost because vomiting was not a habit I liked enough to continuously do. Instead I gained weight. This only advanced the issues of rejection, hurt, guilt, and shame I was dealing with. In my early twenties I found out there was more than one way to eliminate a nasty binge. There was a whole aisle in the drugstore with over the counter pharmaceutical treats. Filling up, then emptying out, that was the process. Of course when my diet became restrictive I couldn’t fill up the way I wanted. I mean who binge eats on salad? *raising hand* I did. When I really couldn’t fill my stomach I had many other compulsive behaviors to swap in the place of food. If you hadn’t already guessed the pile of clothes were purchases made with money I didn’t have on things I did not need.
Each behavior led to a temporary fulfillment to counteract the emotion I was feeling in the moment. The impulse with food felt different from the others. I could rationalize that everyone gets hungry. What I failed to ask myself is what if your hunger doesn’t stop? What if with each bite you savor the taste a little more, a little longer, not wanting the meal to end. Your stomach is saying “put down the fork or you’ll explode” and your brain is saying “you better not stop, this tastes way too good, and will make up for all the emotional pain.” So I kept eating, thinking of ways I could get rid of the excess later.
What I remember most about those exhaustive days is there was never a point of “enough”. The filling I experienced was one of desperation. I felt hollow emotionally. Like the tin man I cried out for a new heart; one that hadn’t been battered, and bruised. A heart that didn’t feel non-existent. I turned to food for comfort, and an empty stomach for relief. I found myself in a destructive cycle I could not get out of. At one point I made a dangerous adjustment to my diet by mostly having foods filled with fiber. I would give myself “cheat” moments, but then even that could become extreme as I might use that one cup of frozen yogurt as my only meal for the day. I give you these details because I want you to sense the frantic rationalization going through my brain. Like a car speeding on the freeway in the middle of the night my thoughts zoomed, racing, excusing the behavior that could destroy me.
If food was that good, and my cravings wouldn’t subside, then why did I always find it necessary to empty out? Why was I looking for the comfort of feeling light, and nothingness in my body? Because the fullness I was experiencing was not what I needed. Spiritually in that time of my life I found myself pulling further and further away from God. I was ashamed of the fact that I once had a closeness with God and still chose sin over Him. I knew right from wrong. I heard the Holy Spirit speaking to me saying “Don’t do that,” or “Don’t go there,” or “Just stay with me. I love you.” Instead of drawing closer I stepped away. Pride had me believe that what I needed were tangible things (people, possessions, etc.) to fill the emptiness. Not wanting to be a hypocrite I went to church less and less. If I did attend I rarely paid attention. There weren’t any worship songs in heavy rotation on my playlist, and the bible wasn’t a book I liked to read. Like a star lost in the night sky, I found myself pulling closer to a black hole, knowing that on the other side was a darkness I did not want to experience. I couldn’t help myself. Nor did I think I deserved anything better.
Piecing together what was happening in that time of my life I realize that I was missing the fear of the Lord. He was like the size of an ant, and I was holding a magnifying glass toward Him to see Him. There was no reverential awe toward Him. I didn’t understand how the creator of everything could fill me up to a filling that would cause me to never hunger those things again. I didn’t care to know how His filling was passionate and not desperate. I found comfort in the emptiness and thought I couldn’t be fixed.
Proverbs 19:23a says: ‘The fear of the Lord leads to life, And he who has it will abide in satisfaction.’
With humility I had to set myself in a place to be able to see God clearly. In order to face my problems I had to first recognize the one who kept speaking to me over and over even when I walked away. There were moments I asked myself “do you want to live?” Sometimes the answer wasn’t clear. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t living, but I didn’t want to die either.
There were many other issues going on in my life at that time. And like a shattered glass on the tile floor I found myself lying in the middle of the bathroom floor too broken to get up. As I cried and cried all I remember saying is “God I really need you now, and if you get me through this one day and show me that it’s possible to keep living then I will try.” Little by little I gave Him more and more, and He didn’t force me beyond my comfort… at first.
In times of feeling lost, God brought me to a place of direction. In times of angst, He brought me to a place of peace. When I was feeling empty, He would touch my heart and bring me comfort. That comfort was something I could experience on a Sunday worship experience, but rarely sought on my own.
A few years ago I heard a pastor once say that Sunday should be like the encore to your week. ‘For many of us we walk in church depleted, and empty, waiting for God to fill us. When what should really be happening is an experience of Him unlike any other. We should want His glory every day of the week, and Sunday should be the added bonus.’ From that moment I started noticing how dissatisfied I was. I kept going to church for a quick fix, but I hadn’t learned how to have a sustainable diet of Him.
Since that moment though I felt a stronger push from Him. A nudging past the elementary comfort I placed myself in. I was no longer in control. Yes, I still had free will, and choices to make. But if I wanted what He was offering to me I had to willingly give up anything that was displeasing to Him. I had to recognize his lordship over my life. I had to be willing to say “God you know what’s best.”
Did I always smile through it? No, not always. Sometimes I would cry gripping tight when I should let go. Were my paths always straight and easy? Not. at. All. There was plenty of twisting and winding as I went left when I should have gone right. Still, He never let me go. He showed me who He was. He showed me His majesty, His heart, His love for me, and the magnitude of who He really is.
In the current season of my life I have been challenged in the area of relationships, and have battled loneliness. This is a big deal for me because loneliness causes compulsive behaviors to bubble up. In the middle of this “lonely” season I spent a week on a ranch without contact to the outside world. My access to any technology was very limited, and all of my activities were Christ centered. If the concept of this doesn’t already sound challenging to you, imagine how I felt when I found out an old friend died on the first day I was there. Leaving in uncertainty I decided to return the following Monday for a second week. That was when I was struck hard with an overwhelming feeling of being alone. As I walked a dirt path I admitted I was tired, and what I really needed was a friend. I looked out with tears in my eyes and I said “Holy Spirit I need a friend right now. I can’t do this alone anymore. I need you to come and be my friend.” As I stretched my arms out a wind brushed past my face, and I felt Him take my hand. For me that feeling is the fullness of Him. That even in my most uncertain moments, the ones that cause me to feel alone, and desire a hollow habit, He brings me life and peace.
The fear of the Lord leads to life because He takes away all that pains me. The fear of the Lord leads to life because I am amazed by Him and His desire for me. I can abide in satisfaction because my fear of Him isn’t conjured up by some anxious feeling over His judgement of me. I abide in satisfaction because my fear of Him is a reflection of how overwhelming His love truly is for me.